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Are Genetics Really the Cause of Your Autoimmune Disease?

By Thea Banjac February 03, 2023 Health and Fitness

Have you been struggling with an autoimmune condition for years? Have you seen several doctors, trying desperately to find a solution, only to end up with a 2nd or even a 3rd autoimmune diagnosis? Have you always wondered WHY this has happened to you, but not to your siblings or other close relatives?

Well, I’m here to tell you that you may stop blaming your mom, dad, or other familial predecessors for your autoimmune disease(s), because genetics are not the main cause of autoimmune disease! I won’t deny that genetics certainly play a role in autoimmune disease. However, just because someone has a genetic pre-disposition to an autoimmune disease, does NOT necessarily mean they will develop it.

For example, you could have a set of identical twins who both have the same genetic pre-disposition for an autoimmune disease, yet one of them might get the disease, and the other may never get it. That’s because genetics is NOT the only factor in getting an autoimmune disease.

There is always a combination of lifestyle and environmental factors that trigger the expression of those autoimmune genetics (this is called “epigenetics”).

Of course, that begs the question, “What IS the main contributor to autoimmunity?” When it comes down to it, there are really only 5 possible root cause imbalances in the body that can trigger the expression of those autoimmune genes. They are as follows and in no particular order:

Environmental Toxicities

These could include underlying mold toxicity, heavy metal toxicity, or a toxicity of any of the 100,000+ man-made chemicals in our modern industrial society. These include pesticides, plastics, flame retardants, preservatives, and much, much more.

Our bodies were not meant to handle such an onslaught of toxins, and some people’s detox pathways are simply not strong enough to handle them. This can lead to a buildup of toxins which then activates the immune system.

Microbiome Imbalances

There are trillions of microbes that live in our gut and have been proven to directly affect our immune system function. Too many of the “bad bugs” and too few of the “good bugs” in the gut can cause an imbalanced gut microbiome.

Such imbalances can then lead to “increased intestinal permeability” (or leaky gut for short), which results in increased immune activation. Some sneaky culprits that can affect the gut microbiome balance include parasites, pathogenic bacteria like H. Pylori or C. Difficile, and pathogenic yeast like Candida Albicans, just to name a few.

Latent Infections

Whether we know it or not, many of us have been infected with viruses or bacteria throughout our lives that may or may not have made us sick at the time. Some common infections include Epstein Barr virus which causes mononucleosis, herpes viruses, Borellia and others that cause Lyme disease, and many more.

Usually, our bodies are able to clear these invaders so that we don’t experience further issues. However, sometimes the virus or bacteria remain in our bodies at a high enough level that it triggers the immune system to remain on high alert.

Something (Or Many Things) in Your Diet

The Standard American Diet (better known as the S.A.D.), is called SAD for a reason. The S.A.D. includes highly processed, highly inflammatory foods that arguably aren’t even foods at all; they’re more like “food like substances.”

These foods contribute to the epidemic of chronic inflammation that is driving nearly every chronic illness in the US. However, it’s not just these obvious, low-quality foods that can trigger the immune system.

Even natural and seemingly healthy foods like nuts, legumes, whole wheat, dairy, certain fruits and vegetables can be serious culprits for people with certain food sensitivities. Even if the food doesn’t elicit the typical GI based symptoms that you would usually attribute to a food intolerance issue, it may be triggering immune activation and chronic, low-grade inflammation.

Stress and Underlying Trauma

Almost everyone has heard that stress contributes to many illnesses and diseases, but most of us tend to brush this contributor to the side. Let’s face it, for most of us, stress seems inevitable! We need to keep in mind that stress has an extremely strong effect on our nervous systems, our brains, our hormones, the gut microbes previously discussed, and certainly on our immune systems.

Research has proven that stress is extremely adept at altering our body’s immune system function, leading to imbalances in our immune response.

What Pulls the Trigger to Autoimmunity

The myth that autoimmune disease is caused by genetics is very misleading. While genetics may load the gun for autoimmunity, it is one or many of these underlying 5 imbalances that pulls the trigger for autoimmunity and activates the immune system, leading to an attack on healthy tissues.

This idea is called epigenetics. You can think about it as your genes having switches that can be turned on and off. When your autoimmune symptoms show up, that’s when your autoimmune genetics are “turned on” by one or more of the underlying imbalances listed above.

Luckily, you can “turn off” those genes by rebalancing the underlying issues (the 5 mentioned above) that are activating your immune system and contributing to the expression of the autoimmune disease. There is ALWAYS an answer as to why your disease began, you just need to dig deep enough to find it!

Do you suffer from an autoimmune condition? How old were you when you began having symptoms? What interventions have you tried for it? Were those interventions successful? Have you ever been tested for environmental toxins, microbiome imbalances, infections, or food sensitivities? Are you interested in learning more about functional medicine lab testing?

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Curious as to why for 5 years I tested positive for Sjogrens. and for the last 6 months I am negative. I have been taking Hydroxycloriquine. Dietary changes were made a year and a half ago. Symptoms still there.

Thea Banjac

Hi Janet! I cannot provide any medical diagnoses or provide any medical advice. But what I will say is that Sjogren’s is usually diagnosed based on the presence of specific antibodies in the blood that are produced by the immune system. Most doctor’s will tell you that these antibody numbers will never go down, and thus the Sjogren’s will never go away. But as you can see with your story, this isn’t necessarily true! It sounds like your antibody numbers did return to normal range, resulting in you now being negative for Sjogren’s (likely due to some of the lifestyle changes you’ve made!). That’s great! It’s unfortunate that you still have symptoms though. That means you must still have some underlying imbalance(s) that need to be addressed. Functional medicine lab testing can be extremely helpful for identifying underlying imbalances that may be contributing to those symptoms. You can schedule a free consultation on my website at if you’d like to discuss this further and see what labs might be helpful for you.


Overactive thyroid in 1971 and Addison’s Disease in 1991.

Marion Crabb

I migrated to Australia in 1989 at the age of 33.
When I turned 40 I was diagnosed with an under active thyroid condition (Hashimoto disease)
I have been taking Oroxine every day for 26 years.
Last month I asked my GP why had no one looked at or scanned my thyroid in all these years?
I then had a scan and while there is a nodule on my gland it doesn’t look nasty but I’m to have it scanned again after 3 months as a precaution.
I know that I’m lucky to have this and not over active but I’m prone to weight gain and feel that life could e better. My yearly blood tests come back in the low range of normal T4 is 11.
I believe the normal range is 11-30 ?
This means my levels stay just borderline and I am not encouraged to increase my medication. So I’m basically always going to struggle with weight gain at 66 yrs I would love to get a solution.
Keep up the good work.

Thea Banjac

Thank you for sharing your story Marion!

Shirley Calabrese


The Author

Thea Banjac helps women with chronic conditions lose weight, rebalance their bodies, and regain control of their health. She combines functional medicine lab testing with personalized wellness protocols to target root cause contributors of each client’s unique condition. Schedule a free consultation at or join her 12 Weeks to Well program to begin taking back control of your health today.

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